A brief introduction to “truth groups” and the “honesty culture” strategy

by Eric Heubeck


I believe that it would actually be possible to solve the age-old problem of lying and dishonesty in human affairs if there were only a relatively small number of people who were willing to consistently adhere to a strategy based on the formation of what might be called “truth groups” (or “honesty groups,” to be more precise).  I certainly make no claim that the thorough elimination of dishonesty in society would be achieved in the very near future by using this strategy; but I do believe that in time, it would be achieved.  (Incidentally, I also envision that these same “truth groups” would constitute the nuclei or beginning cores around which the moral communities that I describe elsewhere might come to form—with each of these moral communities practicing a non-esoteric religion or practical philosophy of its choice.)

I propose that members of truth groups would make four pledges, the first three being the most important to stress.  First:  They will never lie, either to each other or to outsiders—not even to those who have lied to them.  (There would be a single exception to this blanket “never lie” rule:  a kind of “self-defense” or “self-protection” exception that would apply in cases in which an individual’s personal privacy or autonomy was being unreasonably threatened—for example, by being asked intrusive and impertinent questions.)  SecondTo the extent that they are reasonably able, they will never tolerate lying by others.  ThirdTo the extent that they are reasonably able, they will never tolerate the condoning (or promoting, or endorsing, or enabling) by others of lying by others.  Fourth:  They will strive to reduce how much they lie to themselves (at least to the extent they are able to do so, given that some degree of self-deception in every person is inevitable, and one must fight a never-ending battle against it).

A particular truth group could be formed around any interest that its members shared in common, or any mission or goal that they wished to jointly pursue.  Any currently-existing group or association, including a small business, a non-profit organization, or an informal club, could always choose to additionally identify as a “truth group.”  Members of different truth groups wouldn’t need to have anything in common with one another except a shared desire to promote the development of a thoroughly honest society.

It is impossible to predict the exact manner in which the process would unfold, but my general expectation is that over time the various truth groups would “link up” and associate with each other more and more closely and exclusively, giving them a growing ability to “shun” individuals and organizations not associated with any recognized truth group network.  Eventually, all of the truth groups would collectively come to constitute a broad and inclusive “honesty culture.”  Any person who was a member of at least one truth group would ipso facto be a member of the honesty culture.  But any person who was not a member of any truth group could not be regarded as a member of the honesty culture; in fact, he would be regarded as a member of the “dishonesty culture” that would be composed of all those persons who were not recognized members of the honesty culture.  As it grew in size and strength, this honesty culture would progressively “secede” from the surrounding dishonesty culture and operate as independently of it as possible, continuing to focus on its own growth and on expanding its own social influence, until the honesty culture was eventually able to supplant the dishonesty culture entirely.

What would it mean for the honesty culture to “secede” from the surrounding dishonesty culture?  For one thing, it would imply, whenever reasonably possible, patronizing businesses owned by members of the honesty culture before patronizing businesses owned by members of the dishonesty culture.  In other words, there would be a partial boycott of economic actors that had not yet made the choice to locate themselves within the honesty culture (regardless of how honest and trustworthy any one of those particular economic actors happened to be).  Members of the honesty culture would also be given preferences in other ways, such as in social interactions.  Whenever there was a direct conflict between the two, a fellow member of the honesty culture would always be given preferential treatment as compared to someone still located outside the honesty culture.

The ultimate goal would be to create a completely parallel culture—and eventually, a dominant culture—that was simply devoted to honesty; and that’s it.  There would be no “angle.”  Organizing the truth groups would not be used as a pretext for pursuing some other political or social agenda that its members were really interested in pursuing.  As a result, members of different truth groups would be free to continue to disagree with each other over every question except the question of the importance of insisting upon honesty in society.  Persons who did not want to actively associate with the members of one truth group would always be free to form another truth group; but, so long as both groups required honesty from their own members—honesty toward both those inside and those outside their own truth group, as well as those outside the entire honesty culture—each group would still recognize the validity of the other as a truth group (meaning that the members of each of the two truth groups would give preferential treatment to members of the other truth group as compared to persons located outside the honesty culture).

(A more extensive discussion of the “honesty culture” strategy, including my responses to possible objections, can be found here.)